This week in health: Melanoma, smoking and autism studies

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One million former smokers started up again after the 9/11 attacks, according to a new study. Credit: Getty Images

Topic of Study: Melanoma therapy to prevent metastasis
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: Mice
Results: The first potential drug to stop the spread of melanoma is close to development, according to the journal ACS Chemical Biology. The drug would be used in addition to a laser to kill skin cancer cells in both the main tumor and stop cancerous cells spreading to other parts of the body, which is known as metastasis.
Significance: Researchers hoped that this new therapy will improve on an existing one called photodynamic therapy (PDT), which involves a drug that kills cancer cells when exposed to light. PDT only affects the main tumor and doesn’t stem the spread of cancer cells.

Topic of Study: Post-9/11 Stress and Smoking Cessation
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
Results: One million former smokers across the country took up the habit again after the 9/11 attacks, according to a Weill Cornell Medical College public health study. Researchers also looked at smoking habits after the Oklahoma City bombing but found that event didn’t affect smoking rates in the U.S. as dramatically as 9/11.
Significance: Dr. Pesko, lead author of the study, concluded that the results revealed a hidden health and economic cost of terrorism. Financially, he estimated the cost of 9/11-induced smoking to government at $530-$830 million with a potential to run higher if smoking continued beyond 2003.

Topic of Study: No link found between elevated gluten antibodies in children with autism and celiac disease
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: 140 children, 37 with autism
Results: Elevated antibodies to gluten have been found in children with autism, but no link was found to celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten. The study, which was headed by Dr. Armin Alaedini, assistant professor of medical sciences in Columbia University Medical Center’s Department of Medicine and the Institute of Human Nutrition, was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
Significance: There is extensive research into what causes autism and among that is evidence that the immune system plays a role for some with the condition. Autistic children commonly have gastrointestinal symptoms and low-gluten diets are favored for them. The authors of this study recommend further research.

Topic of Study: Hereditary dystonia and deep brain stimulation
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: 41 patients aged 8-71
Results: The most common form of hereditary dystonia – a movement disorder that can cause crippling muscle contractions – seems to respond well to deep brain stimulation, according to a new report. Neurologist Michele Tagliati, director of the Movement Disorders Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Dr. Ron L. Alterman, chief of neurosurgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, authored the study, which is published in the July issue of the journal Neurosurgery.
Significance: The study is focused on early onset generalized dystonia, which is often associated with the DYT1 gene mutation. Less than 1 percent of the overall population carries this mutation, but the frequency is believed to be three to five times higher among Ashkenazi Jews.


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